9 December 2013 Posting

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. A flying saucer has been put on Troutbridge’s deck what can it be all about? Priceless.

Potter about post parcels sourt out Christmas cards

Scrabbletoday I win but under 400, one of those irritating games, pehaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Colin Wilson , the writer, who has died 82, suspected he was a genius; and there were some who agreed with him when in 1956, aged 24, he published The Outsider, a somewhat portentous overview of existentialism and alienation.

Examining the role of outsiders in the arts, Wilson’s attention roamed across a multitude of figures such as Camus, Nietzsche, Kafka, Sartre, Hermann Hesse and Van Gogh. Few first books have been greeted with such unequivocal enthusiasm. Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly and Philip Toynbee were among those who hailed Wilson as one of the brightest young writers of the moment (although Connolly later claimed that he hadn’t even read the book) and he was feted by the press.

Wilson became a celebrity almost overnight and the book went on to be translated into 12 languages. It added to the excitement that he had written The Outsider in the Reading Room at the British Museum, while spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath. On finding himself lionised, however, Wilson spent lavishly on wine, whisky and long-playing records; meanwhile, his frankly expressed opinion that he was “a genius” soon earned him the enmity of Fleet Street.

A few months later he was attacked by his future father-in-law brandishing a horsewhip and shouting: “Aha, Wilson, the game is up!”, and the subsequent press coverage drove him out of London to Cornwall, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Wilson never replicated the stellar success of his debut publication, but his output as a writer was nothing less than prodigious — well over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction, many of them about crime (in the context of an individual’s alienation from society) and the occult.

He was regularly criticised for making sweeping generalisations and for his habit of quoting from memory without reference to his sources, but he remained unshakeably convinced of his own talent. “Most criticism is based purely on incomprehension,” he said. “I have long accepted that the chief difficulty with my work is that it covers too wide a field. Even sympathetic readers can’t see the wood for the trees.”

Colin Henry Wilson was born in Leicester on June 26 1931, the eldest of four children. His father, Arthur, worked in a local shoe factory and Wilson recalled that he was “a particular burden” to his parents, “forever demanding attention and getting into mischief”.

At 11 he developed an interest in science (“I was reading Einstein by the age of 12”) and spent his free time making “bomb mixture” with his chemistry set. This he sold to schoolmates on a regular basis until his grandfather, an air-raid warden, was no longer able to keep the young Colin supplied with magnesium and gunpowder. “My ambition was to develop the atomic bomb,” Wilson later declared, “and when this was done in 1945 I lost interest in science. However, I had also been writing since I was nine.”

Despite this precocity, he did not distinguish himself at the Gateway School in Leicester, and left at 16 having failed to achieve the required mathematics credit that would have gained him a place at university. Instead he started work, in the same shoe factory as his father, before returning to his old school as a laboratory assistant.

Colin was a melancholic youth who toyed with the idea of suicide on more than one occasion. In 1947 he wrote in his diary that he had almost taken cyanide in the school lab, but that he had had “a moment of vision” and decided “to devote all free time to the pursuit of excellence”. He left his job at the school and went to work in the Leicester office of the Collector of Taxes.

Influenced by the work of George Bernard Shaw, he was resolved to become a writer. But he needed to earn a living. In 1949 he was persuaded to take the Civil Service exam, and a year later was transferred to the tax office in Rugby. Called up for National Service, he was so bored by life as an RAF clerk that he feigned homosexuality and was dismissed from the Service.

Returning to his parents’ home, Wilson spent his time “digging the garden, reading Rabelais, practising ballet steps” and formulating what he later described as his “theory of the new existentialism”. Over the next few years he worked variously as a carnival ticket salesman, ditch digger, labourer and factory hand.

It was while he was employed in a steelyard that he met and married the company nurse, Betty Troop, 10 years his senior. He later admitted that he felt pressured into marriage by his parents and by the fact that Betty was expecting his child. The day after the wedding Wilson moved to London, leaving his wife behind in Leicester; although she later joined him, the marriage was not a happy one and lasted only 18 months.

Throughout this time Wilson had been writing plays, stories and essays; and in London he took any part time jobs that would enable him to continue writing, working as a slater on church roofs and in a plastics factory . For a time he became involved with The Bridge, a group of writers which included Laura del Rivo, Stuart Holroyd, Bill Hopkins and Alfred Reynolds .

Wilson’s first play, written in 1951, was The Metal Flower Blossom, which dealt with the lives of a group of young Bohemians living in Soho. Although it was rejected for commercial performance, he later recycled it as the novel Adrift in Soho. His second play, The Death of God, was commissioned by the Royal Court but was again rejected, because it contained “too much philosophy and not enough drama”. Undiscouraged, Wilson continued to churn out dramas, few of which saw the stage .

By 1956 he had established himself as a modish eccentric, dressing in turtleneck sweaters and open-toed sandals and spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath; and in May that year The Outsider hit the bookshops. The reviews were effusive — Philip Toynbee called it “an exhaustive and luminously intelligent study” — and the first impression of 5,000 copies sold out in a single day.

The admiration was, however, short-lived. (The Outsider’s critical reception in the United States, incidentally, was rather more measured — the Herald Tribune Book Review, for example, judging the book “full of fashionable literary allusion” and “half-baked”.) Wilson’s loud affirmations of his own talent led to regular descriptions of him in the press as “Colin (I am a genius) Wilson”. At first he was undeterred, enjoying the financial rewards that came with his success and spending lavishly on entertaining his friends. “As his guest,” Stuart Holroyd recalled, “one had to be prepared to drink wine like a Saxon warlord .”

Eventually, however, the pressure told. He was by now in a relationship with Joy Stewart, whose sister had read Wilson’s notes for his novel Ritual in the Dark (about a sadistic sex murderer, it was not published until 1960) and had mistakenly believed them to be his diary. She told her father, who attacked the young writer with a horsewhip. Wilson and Joy Stewart decamped to Cornwall, married, and went on to have three children together.

Following the success of The Outsider, Colin Wilson produced Religion and the Rebel (1958), which was savaged almost universally by the critics . He then embarked on a writing career remarkable for its scope and sheer prolificness.

Although the author of many novels, including science fiction, Wilson was best known for his non-fiction, works such as Beyond the Outsider (1965); Sex and the Intelligent Teenager (1965); Encylopaedia of Murder (1961, with Patricia Pitman); A Casebook of Murder (1969); Encylopaedia of Modern Murder (1983); and The Laurel and Hardy Theory of Consciousness (1986).

As well as maintaining his interest in literary and philosophical studies, he published books on psychic phenomena and the occult; UFOs and Atlantis; Rasputin, poltergeists, sexology and astral travel. He also wrote two volumes of memoirs: Voyage to a Beginning (1969) and Dreaming to Some Purpose (2004).

At his home in Cornwall, Wilson stored much of his collection of 30,000 books in various garden sheds, each dedicated to a particular subject (including one to house his own works).

He liked to spend his leisure hours walking along the cliff tops near his home or listening to music. Friends and visitors knew him as generous with both his time and his hospitality. He was happy to enter into correspondence with people who wished to hear his views about anything from philosophy and religion to Jack the Ripper and alien abduction; for a decade, as part of his interest in criminology, he exchanged letters with the Moors murderer Ian Brady.

Colin Wilson once observed: “I consider my life work that of a philosopher, and my purpose to create a new and optimistic existentialism.”

He is survived by his second wife Joy and by his four children.

Colin Wilson, born June 26 1931, died December 5 2013






Lisa Hallgarten asserts that there is no suggestion that a caesarean carried out on an Italian woman “without her … consent … was necessary to protect her health or life, only that it was requested by social services to remove the baby for child protection purposes” (A shift from principle, 3 December). This is a misunderstanding of what both ethical medical practice and the law requires, and could never have been an accurate account of what occurred in this case.

She proclaims that “Pregnant women in Britain maintain the right to bodily autonomy and consent over medical treatment, even when carrying a baby to full term might jeopardise either their foetus’s health or their own.” But this obviously does not apply when the patient lacks capacity to consent, which is why hospitals do not abandon the treatment of patients with dementia or severe learning disability or those who are comatose or psychotic.

While Ms Hallgarten worries that whether capacity can ever be determined “is an open question”, it is a matter of daily professional practice for thousands of clinicians up and down the country, as is their concern for the effect of their treatment on the patient, including this one.

In contrast to Ms Hallgarten’s fears, a pregnant woman living in the UK can indeed “still expect a request for help, or an admission of a health problem, to be met with support – not prosecution, forced medical intervention or automatic loss of child custody”. It is as dangerous to stigmatise the mental health and social services as uncaring, cruel child snatchers as it is to demonise the mentally ill as dangerous psychopaths.
Evan Harris


Without wishing disrespect to the heroic admiral, Horatio has had a fair innings on top of Trafalgar Square, and he should be moved to the fourth plinth (Letters, 7 December). Mandela should now sit on top of his eponymous column. There is a suitably sized head outside the Royal Festival Hall that could be put there to gaze down on South Africa House. Such a move would reflect the hoped for change in national outlook from capturing French warships to fostering world wide friendship and mutual respect.
Alec Leggatt
Farnham, Surrey

• When we outsource the government (Ian Jack, 7 December), could we have that nice Birgitte the Staatsminister from Borgen in charge, please?
Richard Feinmann
Marple, Greater Manchester

• So Danny Alexander wants to be remembered for helping build “the foundations of a stronger economy in a fairer society” (Q&A, Weekend, 7 December)? I fear he’s going to be sadly disappointed.
Catriona Stewart
Northwich, Cheshire

• Perhaps Danny Alexander misheard. Surely his answer is a response to the question “Tell us a joke”.
Liz McInnes
Rawtenstall, Lancashire

• Re Charles Handy’s “happy marriage guide” (Family, 7 December), here’s mine. Rule 1: The wife is always right. Rule 2: If the wife is wrong, see Rule 1.
John Richards

• Please could we now hear Elizabeth Handy’s side of the story?
Val Smith
Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Simon Jenkins’ article on wind turbines (We trash the landscape for the benefit of billionaires, 6 December) suggests a lack of knowledge on the subject. At various points in the article Jenkins claims that wind energy is not green, creates “almost no jobs”, and that it doesn’t matter where wind turbines are sited as they receive payment no matter the supply of wind. In fact, carbon payback of construction of wind occurs in three to six months, there are over 16,000 direct jobs and around 14,000 indirect jobs in the wind industry, and payments only occur for energy generated by wind turbines – not installed capacity. In a final piece of confusion, he states that offshore turbines are less efficient than onshore – despite them having a higher load factor, the generally accepted measurement for efficiency.

Jenkins is clearly no fan of the look of wind turbines, but the majority of people are, and the debate should focus on the real facts. Wind energy works, and it is an important part of meeting our energy needs today and into the future.
Maf Smith
Deputy chief executive, RenewableUK

• If wind turbines do not work, could Simon Jenkins explain how Denmark is a net exporter of electricity? If subsidies are such an evil, why does he not rail against the obscene amounts of our cash given to the nuclear industry, which has yet to finish a UK project on time, within budget and capable of generating its promised output? Rather than sending cash abroad, subsidies should be made available to communities wanting to put up their own turbine for local micro-generation projects to provide local cheaper power.
Duncan Grimmond
Markington, North Yorkshire


It is no surprise that British companies are being outpaced in the global commercialisation of graphene and other high technologies, even though they are being pioneered by British universities (How the UK trails the world on a great British invention, 4 December).

I am convinced that graphene has immense possibilities, which is why Dyson is exploring potential applications (secret, I’m afraid) with Andre Geim at Manchester University, and other universities in England. As soon as Andre provides a suitable researcher, the Dyson-funded project will begin. University research is valuable and powers future technology, even if there is no obvious immediate application. Competing internationally requires the best technology in the world. This relies on investment and brains.

Dyson invests £2.5m a week in research, we have 1,500 engineers and scientists (though we desperately want more) and we are working alongside dozens of British universities. All to develop patentable technology that will be owned in Britain and exported around the world. The government’s £350m investment to support doctoral training is promising, but will only be of long-term value to Britain if the resulting research is nurtured and commercialised by British industry. It will fuel Britain’s future.
James Dyson

• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article highlights one of the great myths of UK innovation policy, namely that the main source of successful innovative new businesses is academic inventions. This is no more true in Cambridge than it is in Boston or Silicon Valley. We cannot bank on Manchester’s graphene research being the exception. It is the alumni of great research universities that drive economic growth through the opportunity to use their expertise and creativity in businesses, in particular by solving problems and developing new products for demanding customers.

By the standards of our most direct industrial competitors, the UK government underspends on research and development by about £4bn a year. However, the gap is not in university research spending but in the funding of “exploratory development”.

This is the long and risky process of trying to make new technologies work in real-world applications. Germany has 22,000 scientists and engineers doing this in non-university Fraunhofer Institutes. The US funds this kind of work through R&D procurements, with small firms and not-for-profit R&D organisations playing a key role.

We will only address the problem when we fully recognise what it is, rather than trying to get universities to play a role they are not designed for.
David Connell
Senior research fellow, UK Innovation Research Centre, University of Cambridge, and Chairman, Archipelago Technology

• I hope the new £61m National Graphene Institute at Manchester will reap some rewards (Letters, 5 December). Graphene is an exciting material, and its unusual properties give great hope that there will be rewards. However, like most wonderful new materials, it is a solution looking for problems.

The biggest rewards will be to companies that identify and develop novel applications to commercial scale. Sadly, most of these will not be in the UK, because governments since the 1970s have allowed our industry to be broken up, sold off or shut down in the drive for short-term gains by banks and the stock market. There is now a plethora of centres for this and that, usually set up as government initiatives to show they are investing in the future or as a sop to placate angry reaction to yet another industrial closure. The trouble is that, without a secure UK manufacturing base, they are investing in the future for somewhere else.
Dr John Birtill
Highcliffe Catalysis Limited, Guisborough

• Martin Durrani’s letter (5 December) touches on the closure of AstraZeneca’s research centre in Cheshire and its relocation to Cambridge and concludes that it “raises separate questions over the north-south divide”, which indeed it does. This is not the first time that successful and well-established research has been moved to the “golden triangle”, the most extraordinary example being the relocation of second-generation synchrotron research from Daresbury, near Manchester, to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. Given that all the initial and brilliant developments took place in Daresbury, this was a strange and unfair decision, the reasons for which have never been fully disclosed. If it’s successful and in the north, move it south. What assumptions and influences are at work here?
Daniel McDowell
Ludlow, Shropshire






As we celebrated the achievements of Nelson Mandela, I received the following SMS: “One of our brothers have problem – the military flog him to die. Please make the media to know that.”

The message was from black African migrants, camped out on a hillside near the Spanish-Moroccan border at Melilla, whom I had met this November during a research visit to the region. And the news that one of their number has been “flogged to death” does not surprise me.

The migrants are young and daring and absolutely set on crossing the border, but, in the dead of night, the Moroccan police certainly don’t hold back. And the authorities are funded by Brussels.

It is somehow beyond irony that, as Europe praises the achievements of Madiba, we, the “civilised Europeans”. are, on our doorstep, working hard to “keep the blacks out”.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne, Germany 


The release of two Algerians from Guantanamo after 10 years’ detention without charge is a cruel reminder of governments abusing people’s freedoms.

How many world leaders attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral will reflect on his imprisonment under the draconian security laws of apartheid and understand that democracy and its rights are not a privilege of the white Western world to be selectively applied, but something to be extended to all people, friend or foe alike?

Ian McKenzie , Lincoln


One of the most moving images in recent days was of a man standing in front of the Israeli government’s exclusion wall, holding a picture of Nelson Mandela. I wonder how long the Palestinians and Bedouin will have to wait for apartheid and oppression to crumble in their region.

H N Stanley, Leckhampton, Cheltenham


Nelson Mandela’s vision and commitment to a solution have to be harnessed in a situation not too different – Palestine.

South African nationalists were beaten through sanctions when the business community told De Klerk he had to make peace and settle. So it could be with Palestine. Release Marwan Barghouti, then withdraw the associate status that grants Israel preferential access to EU markets. Netanyahu, like De Klerk, will then have to engage in serious negotiations.

Peter Downey, Wellow, Somerset


David Cameron had good reason to look uncomfortable when trying to devise a response to Nelson Mandela’s death. He may at some time have paid lip service to the end of apartheid in South Africa, but does not believe in equality in his own country. Mr Mandela’s character and personality and all he stood for were the direct opposite of the policies of this Conservative Government.

Eileen Noakes, Bridgetown, Devon


Nelson Mandela continued to forgive all who had ever done wrong against him and his people until his very last breath. If only our own politicians had but one ounce of his passion, honesty and integrity, this country would be a far better place.

Instead, we end up with the Nasty Party, once again doing all the things that Mandela would have campaigned against.

Michael W Cook, Soulbury, Buckinghamshire


The man who checked Jobs’ first computer

Ron Wayne’s recollections of his involvement with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (“The Apple founder who missed out”, 7 December) brought back memories of my good friend Wayne Green (who published Byte magazine and who, sadly, died in September). He visited Jobs in 1976 in the garage of his parents’ house to view the first Apple computer.

Jobs asked Wayne what he thought of it, Wayne told him it was a winner. He subsequently told Jobs to get his computer to the Atlanta Computer/Radio Convention – quickly. The trouble was that Jobs couldn’t “afford the air fare”. Wayne told him to get a bus instead. He did. And on that first day there, an excited Jobs told Wayne that he had taken 12 orders and was “now in business”.

The “banner” that Roy Wayne described in the article, was directly opposite Wayne Green’s booth at that convention. This is how Apple began.

Ray J Howes, Weymouth, Dorset


Give education back to the teachers

Your editorial (4 December) suggested Michael Gove’s reform programme “has much to recommend it”.However, you seem to have disregarded its potential pitfalls and ignored what should be learnt from nations with a successful record in school reform.

Mr Gove has encouraged an ever-increasing range of school types, thus fracturing the school system into separate fiefdoms. This risks schools being less inclined to work collaboratively. The decline of Sweden’s standing in Pisa tables, after implementing free schools, arguably offers evidence of this risk.

Teaching is a profession where colleagues need to learn from each other. In a culture of increased competition, arising from performance-related pay reform, teachers may be less likely to share their success for fear of an adverse impact on their personal remuneration.

Our legislators should look at Finland’s educational success. It is a nation where teaching is a high-status and highly qualified profession without “fast-tracking”; where student testing is limited to the minimum so that it does not become the “tail wagging the dog”; where responsibility and trust are more prevalent than oppressive accountability; where collaboration between schools and teachers is preferred to competition; and where teachers, not politicians, control curriculum, student assessment and school improvement.

Pete Crockett, Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire


Rosie Millard (4 December) says: “Our children can’t read and add up.” This is a shocking indictment but is in no way borne out by the Pisa results, which must be treated with considerable circumspection.

China, quoted as a shining example by Ms Millard, is, in fact, just Shanghai – which is totally untypical. And the differences in marks between countries placed quite far apart are very small: the Netherlands was ranked 10th and the UK 26th, but the mark difference was three per cent – which could easily be explained by testing methodology.

Ms Millard says: “China and the rest are streaking ahead of us” and that British education “is fast becoming the worst”. But the figures show that, compared with 2009, our ranking has remained virtually constant or even slightly improved.

What is true is that the Asian countries have streaked ahead of Europe, with only Finland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland now in the top ten. It is also true that such short-term comparisons have very limited value.

That there are deep-rooted problems in our state-school system cannot be denied, but a critique based on wild assertions will not advance the debate.

Michael Foss, Teddington


Prosperity should begin at home

Britain’s PM goes to China etc, begging for inward investment into the UK;  he succeeds and Britain becomes more prosperous.

Therefore, citizens of poor countries pay crooks to get them into Britain so that they can get some of the prosperity. They send money home or they pay the crooks more money to get their families to join them in the UK. Then Britain spends more of the proceeds of its prosperity to erect and maintain ever more barriers to keep the immigrants out.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the resources of the City of London and our own skills to fund our prosperity and to encourage other countries, perhaps by example, to invest in the poorer countries so as to increase their prosperity and to make their citizens less likely to want to emigrate?

Geoff Harris


Warwick I am concerned that our Prime Minister is putting so much faith in allowing China to invest so much in the UK.

China is a communist country. We have experienced a Labour government spending more than we could afford, hence we have one of the worst debts on the planet.

What happens when China runs out of money? As with all empires, it will collapse, and my suspicion is that could be sooner rather than later.

Labour would happily sign contracts regardless of whether they/we could follow through. The Chinese seem to be doing the same. That is why I favour our continued membership of the EU. I would rather trust our nearest neighbours with whom we have a long history.

Richard Grant, Burley, Hampshire


Summoning up the dead?

This week I witnessed a vehicle passing through the village where I live driven by someone on a mobile phone. Not an unusual occurrence these days – but the vehicle was a hearse. Could it be he was looking for a customer ?

Ray Radley, Horringer, Suffolk






Sir, Before the Chancellor gets too excited about the apparent growth in our economy (Autumn statement reports, Nov 6), he should remember that economic forecasting is a tricky business, and so far the Office for Budget Responsibility has not managed to get a single forecast right. The statistical measurement of our economy is equally tricky to get right, and figures are invariably adjusted up or down over the following year or two, occasionally to a large extent. Early publication of figures which are subsequently proved to be inaccurate can do substantial damage.

Many things contribute to a successful economy, but these days British governments have far fewer economic levers than they once had. In its first couple of years this Government spent too much time emphasising the difficulties the country faced, and the need for cutbacks and austerity.

If people think things are going to get better (as they appear to at the moment) then they’ll start to spend — if needs be by borrowing. As a result, the economy will start to lift off. As Keynes famously said: “The expectation brings about the expected”.

Barry Richardson

Isham, Northants

Sir, Your report on the imposition of Capital Gains Tax on profits made by foreign owners of property in the UK queries as to how to collect the tax from a vendor who sells up and returns to his own country. One answer would be to do as they do in France which is have the tax due calculated by a state-appointed expert and paid directly by the notary from the proceeds of the sale.

David Shamash

South Fawley, Berks

Sir, George Osborne has announced his intention to increase tax relief for films, and to extend these breaks to regional theatre, in recognition of the significant economic contribution made by our country’s highly skilled creative content industries. As the chairman of a successful post-production house, I can’t help but hope that this measure is amended to recognise the wider range of creative talent this country holds.

If the Government truly intends to “Help keep the UK ahead of the game when it comes to creative excellence,” as Ed Vaizey said, it needs to be encouraging a whole range of creativity. What about our world-class comedy? These sitcoms and entertainment shows may cost less than films and some dramas, but they are certainly not cheap to make. To ensure that full series are commissioned, they also need significant investment in pilot programmes and this can be something of a gamble. Triumphs such as The Office or The IT Crowd are few and far between.

Just because shows are funny doesn’t mean they are not high-end, and not worth investing in, and similarly, just because our technical expertise is not being used in billion pound projects doesn’t make them redundant.

Julian Aston

Chairman, Suite

London W1



A centralised economy is not an option we should consider, but we must establish a set of well defined, transparent rules

Sir, In focusing on the virtues of the free market and what it offers to the individual, Danny Finkelstein (Opinion, Dec 4) ignores some of the notable vices and greed of colossal magnitude facilitated by the capitalist free market. For generations hard working people will have to pay for excesses such as the RBS bailout, the Libor scandal, money laundering, London Whale trading losses, Bernie Madoff operating a Ponzi scheme, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and many more.

A centralised, controlled economy is not an option we should consider, but we must establish and adopt a set of well defined, transparent rules and assign regulatory bodies with powers to ensure that the greed of rogue individuals, banks and financial institutions is contained.

Taifur Rahman

Rayleigh, Essex



Is IPSA simply one group of public-sector cronies deciding the salaries and perks of another? If so we should question its existence

Sir, When others such as nurses are limited to pay increases of 1-2 per cent, shouldn’t MPs be setting an example by rejecting the 11 per cent pay rise suggested by IPSA? Other representations on pay have been overruled by the Government on the ground of cost, and this should happen here. The standing of MPs is not high, and the acceptance of a recommended 11 per cent pay rise will do nothing to improve MPs’ reputation.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

Sir, The recommendations of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should be questioned, but so should IPSA itself. Is the system simply one group of public-sector cronies deciding the salaries and perks of another? Can such a body be considered truly “independent”? Who appointed these people, and what are their salaries, severance payments and pensions?

John Allison

Maidenhead, Berks


Most Western countries have numerous proton beam establishments. Why have none been built in the UK?

Sir, Further to the article on prostate cancer by Sir Martin Narey (Dec 4), usually the next stage of treatment in the UK for cancer recurrence at the prostate bed would be antiquated X-ray therapy. However modulated and refined this is at our oncology centres, it is not very accurate, will often damage surrounding tissue and can cause disabling side-effects. Over the past few years clinical research has indicated that the modern way to treat most tumours is proton beam therapy, which is much more accurate in treating most tumours such as brain, chest and prostate, causes little or no surrounding tissue damage and is less invasive.

Most Western countries have numerous proton beam establishments, which in some cases have been in use for years. Why have none been built in the UK?

John Franklin

Minehead, Somerset


It’s time we were encouraged to read the instructions on how to use gadgets and other home appliances when electricity is cheapest

Sir, The electricity industry is forecasting blackouts because there is a shortage of generating capacity. As a result the taxpayer is being persuaded to support investment by pseudo-monopolies that are already highly profitable. We are being misled. There is a forecast capacity shortfall at peak periods only. The rest of the time there is a large surplus. The solution is obvious: accelerate the rollout of smart meters so the industry can smooth out demand through “differential pricing” — ie, just like the railways, you pay more at peak times. Ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers et al have timers. It’s time we were encouraged to read the instructions on how to use them when electricity is cheapest. Giving everyone a smart meter is significantly cheaper than building redundant nuclear power stations.

Bob Swindle

Kendal, Cumbria



The experience of a northern schoolboy in the 1950s show that it is wrong to say the grammar schools did not enhance social mobility

Sir, I must take issue with Philip Collins’s assertion (Thunderer, Dec 3) that “grammar schools never did make it more likely that working-class kids would go on a class journey”.

I was fortunate to go, in the 1950s, to a decent grammar school and found myself among other boys from varying backgrounds, many from poor or single parent families. The school had a 6th form of about 150 pupils and in my year it won seven state and eight open scholarships.

At Durham University (aided by free tuition and a local authority grant) I found myself among many young people from dreadfully poor backgrounds, a lot from the northern coalfields. Many of my acquaintances went on to have distinguished careers as academics, surgeons and lawyers.

It is nonsense to say the grammar schools did not enhance social mobility. Moreover, the universities themselves went out of their way to encourage youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply.

Michael Wade

Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway




SIR – Tomorrow there is a vital opportunity to improve vastly the lives of children who return home from care, when the Children and Families Bill is debated in the House of Lords.

The Government has moved decisively to improve prospects for adopted children by offering an entitlement, in the form of a personal budget, to services for them and their parents.

But most children who are taken into care are not adopted. They will return home where research shows that half of those who entered care as a result of abuse or neglect will suffer further harm unless changes are made. Too many young people end up in a revolving door of care that is damaging for them and has a significant cost for local authorities.

The support offered to adopted children should also be made available to those who return home after a stay in care. Support should be driven by need and not by legal status.

Peter Wanless
Chief Executive, NSPCC
Dr Maggie Atkinson
Children’s Commissioner for England
Dame Clare Tickell
Chief Executive, Action for Children
Bridget Robb
Chief Executive, British Association of Social Workers
Puja Darbari
UK Director of Strategy, Barnardos
Robert Tapsfield
Chief Executive, the Fostering Network
Natasha Finlayson
Chief Executive, the Who Cares? Trust
Cathy Ashley
Chief Executive, Family Rights Group
David Bradley
Chief Executive, TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust)
Chris Wright
Chief Executive, Catch22 National Care Advisory Service
Andrew Radford
Managing Director, Coram Voice
Professor Harriet Ward
Director Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University,
Professor Nina Biehal
Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
Dr Jim Wade
Senior Research Fellow, University of York
Professor June Thoburn
Professor in Social Work, University of East Anglia
Dr Janet Boddy
Co-Director, Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth, University of Sussex


SIR – Nelson Mandela had a huge impact on South Africa and the world as a whole. His legacy is one of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

He will be remembered forever in history but the United Nations should create a special award to honour the great man in this era.

Kathleen Crane
Ashreigney, Devon

SIR – Apartheid South Africa’s treatment of Nelson Mandela showed, like Imperial Rome’s response to Christ’s message, tyranny’s impotent dread of appeals for peace, unity and forgiveness.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – Nelson Mandela was the most honest, sincere politician I have seen in my lifetime. When he raced onto the pitch wearing a team shirt after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup, I knew he was someone special.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – As politicians and others rush to praise the late Nelson Mandela let us not forget that he never renounced the ANC’s armed struggle, and that it was South Africa’s last white president, F W de Klerk, who peacefully dismantled apartheid and allowed democracy to prevail.

Dominic Shelmerdine
London W8

EU immigration

SIR – Attempting to “liberate’ Ukraine may be high-minded of the EU. But are there any geographical limits to an expanding EU? Include Armenia, Georgia and Turkey, and the EU would border Chechnya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Should Kiev’s young people be encouraged to believe that the accord on the free movement of peoples will remain a bedrock principle of the EU?

This will be further tested with the end of transitional restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants come the New Year. The scale of uncontrolled immigration into Western Europe will be augmented from Croatia, which recently joined, and in due course from six other Balkan states.

Was it wise of the EU to entice Ukrainians into abandoning their economic dependence on Russia without offering transitional aid? Will the EU’s taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

SIR – The Government may have created a million private-sector jobs during its three years in office but those job opportunities have become a magnet for the unemployed of southern and Eastern Europe.

The EU has to abandon its current criteria and put the responsibility on member states to tackle endemic corruption and tax evasion and resolve their own problems before being given free rein to export unemployment to the states of northern Europe. Mr Cameron must stop his ineffectual posturing and form alliances with the other states that pay Europe’s bills. Only by collective action can they force the EU to bring this nonsense to an end.

Tony Jones
London SW7

Climate meeting

SIR – We were the six climate scientists present at the meeting with Lord Lawson on November 19. Mr Booker states that it was insisted that “not even the names of those present were to be revealed”.

This was not the case. The meeting was not secret, it was simply a private briefing; we were not there to put on a public performance. We were at the meeting as established, individual, climate scientists rather than as part of any official Royal Society delegation, and we did not claim to speak on behalf of the Society.

As was made clear in the pre-meeting correspondence, the focus of the discussion was always intended to be on climate science, and the role of climate scientists in providing policy-relevant (rather than policy-prescriptive) advice. Lastly, we were not there to discuss or debate the pros and cons of particular policies; this is a distinct issue, requiring expert input from a much broader range of specialisms than was present at the meeting.

Prof Gideon Henderson
University of Oxford
Brian Hoskins
Imperial College, London
Tim Palmer
University of Oxford
John Shepherd
University of Southampton
Prof Keith Shine
University of Reading
Prof Andrew Watson
University of Exeter

Turning the tide

SIR – The tides around Britain are among the highest in Europe.

Morecambe Bay or the Severn estuary could be ideal locations for tidal energy generation.

There are several tidal generators operating in Europe, the largest being at St Malo which has been working successfully for many years with little environmental effect.

John R Kerridge
Sowerby, West Yorkshire

SIR – Tides may be reliable but the time of their peaks change daily.

Power generation from this source may not match with periods of high electricity demand. The present inability to store electricity on a large scale means that tidal energy from barrage schemes has shortcomings comparable to wind power and does not offer a solution to our problems.

Peter Snowdon
Leeds, West Yorkshire

Gibraltar solution

SIR – Regarding the recent problems with Spanish vessels entering Gibraltarian waters, the Government should consider the simple expedient of deploying a handful of large naval tugs to the area.

That way, future unauthorised incursions could be dealt with by corralling the offending vessel and pushing it back into Spanish waters, without the unpleasantness of a prolonged stand-off and with minimised risk of escalation.

Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

Father’s little helpers

SIR – Sarah Page’s letter brought to mind the two German shepherds my parents had which “helped” as we filled the dishwasher.

My father’s nicknames for them were Inspecteur du Plat and Sergeant Saucer. My mother was not as amused by them, especially when they managed to dislodge the plates.

Ginny Hudson
Swanmore, Hampshire

Millennium mistake

SIR – In response to Malcolm Scard, the dates on which millennia begin and end are easily understood if one bears in mind that there was no year numbered 0. Anything before the birth of Jesus Christ is BC and anything after it is AD.

A new millennium does not begin until its predecessor has reached the end of its thousandth year.

I still do not understand why the beginning of the present millennium was officially celebrated a year early.

Derek Wellman

Ali Baba humbug!

SIR – I remember reading in an American tourist guide to London that there were two forms of theatre that they should avoid: farces and pantomimes.

John G Prescott
Coulsdon, Surrey


SIR – Andrew Gilligan exposed the full horror of HS2 and the hybrid Bill, which reads like a megalomaniac’s charter.

Even if one accepted the Department for Transport’s contentious case for a new line on the grounds of capacity, there is no rationale for the route through the Chilterns. Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, has belatedly conceded that speed is not the ultimate criterion.

A route following the existing M1 transport corridor or the Great Central Railway could link many more centres of population, would cause less environmental harm and would be almost as quick.

The Government chooses to ignore any such alternatives. One is led to conclude that ministers and civil servants are hell-bent on demonstrating they can do whatever they like to the people of Britain. Somehow we must put a stop to this nonsense and HS2 should be reset in the context of a national transport strategy.

Tim Stockton
London NW5

SIR – The lack of any publicised response from David Cameron to the idea of using the Great Central Railway as an alternative to HS2 at a quarter of the cost appears to confirm, once and for all, the vanity and the ego of politicians.

What do £40 billion and 10 years of upheaval and rural desecration matter when a politician’s face-saving exercise is at stake?

Philip Ashe
Garforth, West Yorkshire

SIR – The regeneration provisions in the HS2 Bill run directly counter to the government’s recently enacted National Planning Policy Framework.

Paragraph 80 in the NPPF lists “To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another” as one of the five purposes served by the Green Belt. Another is “to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas”. The HS2 proposals for the Meriden Gap will merge Birmingham and Coventry and cause the sprawl of those two large built-up areas.

Would Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, please have a quiet word with Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary?

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

SIR – The HS2 project is about improving the economic environment in the North to try and redress the economic inequalities between North and South in our economy. It is not about commuting to London more easily.

Kevin Trumper
Newport, Shropshire

SIR – Nearly a third of the current estimate for HS2 – £42.6 billion – is contingency, much of which was added on the instructions of the Treasury rather than the project team.

Andrew Gilligan provides a detailed criticism of the environmental impact of HS2, but disruption on a similar scale was triggered in a similar area when the M40 was driven through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in the early Nineties.

Presumably the residents who have benefited from the M40 in the intervening decades would, in the interests of consistency, welcome the return of that area to the greenfield status it once enjoyed.

Mark Rushton
Rushden, Northamptonshire

SIR – Andrew Gilligan’s article should be compulsory reading for David Cameron and every MP. It is a horror story about the proposed destruction of this green and pleasant land and a scandalous waste of money.

How anyone in possession of their senses can even contemplate such a project beggars belief.

Jo Withey
Wortham, Norfolk

SIR – Andrew Gilligan omitted to mention the EU’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the project. This rears its head in the form of the Connecting Europe Facility: funding that helps to put long-term EU transport strategies into reality. HS2 is referred to on the Commission website and forms part of its North Sea/Mediterranean high-speed corridor. Waiting in the wings we have London-Southampton and Birmingham-Felixstowe.

It seems that our domestic politicians prefer being crucified by the British media and public to having to admit that they are fronting EU policy.

Stuart Agnew MEP (Ukip)
Chelmsford, Essex



Irish Times:


Sir, – In the sadness at his death, some aspects of his success are overlooked even by modern historians. The background to a tolerant South Africa came from the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan in the 1980s. Reagan was reluctant to impose sanctions on South Africa but eventually did so. Lifting them, with an undertaking from Gorbachev not to arm the ANC, created the right climate for the 1992 agreement. Mandela handled the new reality with great humanity.

In the same way Reagan and Gorbachev decided on levels of support in Palestine that led on to the 1993 Oslo accords. Ending the supply of Semtex helped the 1994 ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Reagan is dead but was honoured at Ballyporeen; isn’t it about time that we expressed our gratitude to Gorby as well? – Yours, etc,



Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – For us to lose Seamus Heaney and Nelson Mandela in the same year seems an unaccountably cruel trick on the part of the universe. – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,




Sir, – The hypocrisy of the Irish media, Government and main opposition party on the death of Nelson Mandela is truly baffling. As a trade unionist, I stood on the picket line with Dunnes Stores workers to protest against the importation of produce from South Africa whose unjust segregation laws were condemned throughout the free world.

However, I was under no illusions, Nelson Mandela was indeed a great and inspirational leader but on the other hand he was head of the ANC, an organisation which espoused violence for political gain and whose terror tactics in some instances would make the IRA look like altar boys.

As president, Nelson Mandela sought to promote reconciliation and equality in South Africa and was encouraged by world leaders in his efforts. He certainly did not suffer the demonisation that Gerry Adams is undergoing at the moment though both men supported organisations that used violence to bring about political change.

Mandela was encouraged with his peace process and reconciliation strategy not so Adams whose political destruction seems to be the main objective of the media, government and main opposition.

Be careful in what you wish for.


Slaney Bank View,


Co Carlow.

Sir, – I suggest it would be an appropriate addition to the 2016 celebrations to rename the Spire on O’Connell Street “Nelson Mandela Pillar”.

Here are some reasons. It is very close to the Dunnes Stores on Henry Street where workers refused to handle apartheid goods in the 1980s.

The Spire is infamously a monument to nothing in particular, while other monuments in the same street are dedicated to emancipatory leaders such as Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and James Larkin.

2016 will be the 50th year anniversary of the destruction of the original Nelson’s Pillar as well as the centenary of the 1916 rising.

As well as being a fitting tribute to the international stature of Madiba, it would remind people of the history of inter-continental solidarity that has existed for centuries between Ireland and other former colonies. – Yours, etc,


Reuben Avenue,


Dublin 8.


Sir, – Ireland’s 8,400 charities provide a vast range of public services in communities across Ireland. Just over half of the funds spent by these organisations come from the exchequer, with the rest being sourced from the public, companies and philanthropic sources.

All these organisations are run by volunteers who serve as board or committee members. About half of all Irish charities have no paid employees. However, as is the case the world over, when their work requires it, charities employ paid staff to deliver, oversee and manage the effective delivery of their services and effective financial management. Of those charitable organisations which employ paid staff, 37 per cent have five paid staff or fewer; 41 per cent have between six and 50 paid staff; and only a quarter of one percent of them employ over 100 people.

The recent revelations about top-up payments for senior executives and the associated issue of the levels of those salaries, relate to a very small number of voluntary healthcare-providers that are in effect supplying outsourced public services. It cannot be inferred that these practices are common in a sector where the only comprehensive salary survey shows the average remuneration for CEOs and managers in charities is €59,000 a year (with no bonuses or “top- ups”) and that most CEOs earn less than €72,000 a year.

All funds raised by a charity, regardless of the source, pass into the custodianship (not the ownership) of the organisation’s trustees (usually referred to as board or committee members). These funds must therefore be treated the same as any public funds under the control of a public entity, that is with unqualified transparency. For organisations with a charity number, there can never be different standards of transparency for funds. The entire organisation benefits from the charitable status, therefore the highest standards of transparency must apply to the reporting of all income and all expenditures of that organisation.

Charities in receipt of State funding must comply with all the terms of all funding agreements they enter into, including any terms related to remuneration of staff and senior executives.

It would be terrible consequence for the vast majority of very well run charitable organisations if the justifiable shock and anger caused by recent revelations were to affect fundraising, or the reputation of charities in general. These organisations are reliant on public generosity and support, and the issue in the spotlight has nothing to do with the way in which the vast majority of highly effective and efficient charitable organisations is run.

Although we regretfully do not yet have a charity regulator in Ireland, it does not mean the sector is unregulated. There are many different regulators which oversee different aspects of the work of charities. The announcement this year by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter that the charity regulator will be established in 2014 is very welcome as the final piece in the regulatory framework. The charity regulator’s presence will provide by default, the necessary transparency to show and to reassure the public that Ireland’s charities are, in the vast majority of cases, run to the highest possible standards.

Until then, and in light of the current revelations, all charitable organisations should re-double their commitment to transparency by publishing detailed accounts on their websites, or other places accessible to the public.

These accounts should include explanatory notes on how and where the funds were sourced and spent, and what impact the work of their organisation has made. All organisations should also respond promptly to legitimate requests for information on salary levels and sources of funding. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

The Wheel,

Fleet Street, Dublin 2.


Sir, – Vincent Browne’s belated realisation (Opinion, December 4th) that William Martin Murphy was the real victor of 1913 is to be welcomed. So is his conclusion that the most poisonous legacy of Murphyism (the man himself modestly christened his ideology thus) was its value system. Its central tenets were avarice, paternalism, property, religion and respectability, which were to become the ideological pillars of the Irish Free State.

Neo-liberalism has replaced neo-Redmondism, having dispensed with religion and respectability in the process. Would Murphy be happy with the new dispensation if he were alive today? Probably not. Would it prevent him from making even more money in the country dubbed by Forbes magazine as the world’s “best country for business”? Certainly not.

He would no doubt console himself that the social solidarity values of Larkinism, if not banished completely, were in retreat and pose no threat to the wealthy elite he personifies. – Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Co Dublin.


Sir, – How is it that the Icelandic government has introduced taxes on the banks in order to assist people with their mortgage debts, whereas in Ireland the Government has brought in a variety of taxes on the people to bail out the banks?

It begs the question: Which is closer to a social democracy and which to a plutocracy? – Yours, etc,




Co Tipperary.



Sir, – You express concern about the alleged risks for Smurfit Kappa when investing in Venezuela (“Cantillon: Headache for Smurfit Kappa in Venezuela”,Business, December 3rd). Nevertheless, such concerns contradict an earlier article entitled “Smurfit Kappa’s revenue boosted by strong sales” (Business, November 6th), that states, “The group’s operations in the Americas enjoyed a €141 million bounce in revenue and saw earnings increase by €35 million as a result of strong underlying volume and revenue growth throughout the region, in particular Venezuela.”

In addition, your recent article suggests that Chavez “seized” land without reason. However, following the Venezuelan Land Act of 2001, the Venezuelan government redistributed land which was idle, in order that vital agricultural production can be stimulated. Food sovereignty is a key issue in Venezuela. Parallels can be drawn between the Venezuelan case and that of the Irish Land Acts.

Some of the lands owned by Smurfit Kappa in Venezuela were not being used productively and the government merely enforced the law. Also, the company’s eucalyptus plantation between Lara and Portuguesa states was depriving the area of water, with rivers running dry.

As the article acknowledges, the company itself has referred to the recent actions as an “audit”, something that is commonplace across the world in cases where there are concerns regarding tax, prices or employment practices. – Yours, etc,


Charge d’Affaires,

Embassy of the Bolivarian

Republic of Venezuela

to the UK and the Republic of


Embassy of Venezuela,

Cromwell Road,



Sir, – Without doubt the Forbes magazine article on Ireland’s business friendly credentials will have whiskey tumblers raised in glee at high-powered Christmas lunches in the coming days.

However, it will not bring much festive cheer to the many hard-pressed households across the country. When taken in the context of recent debates on executive pay and welfare rates, it highlights that the criteria on which success is measured are not those which are necessarily aligned with an equal society.

We are praised for low wages in the broader economy, persuaded that lower welfare rates are needed to incentivise work at these lower wages and that executives need top-ups in order to retain the “best”.

Our standing no doubt also benefits from our socialisation of private debt in order to maintain protect the banks which almost crippled the country. The concept of a social dividend is not high on the Forbes list.

As we mourn the passing of the great Nelson Mandela we would do well to remember his words. “I am influenced more than ever before by the conviction that social equality is the only basis of human happiness”. Now that would be something to which all could raise their glasses. – Yours, etc,


Linden Avenue,




Sir, – The article “Consumers could face €107m in extra card fees” (Business, November 20th) is misleading.  The conclusion that regulation of hidden debit and credit card fees would end up costing people more is not supported by the facts.  On the contrary, it will benefit consumers, small businesses and larger retailers alike. As it stands, there is no competition in the interchange fees market, which results in huge variations of the fees paid by retailers across the EU. Fees can be as low as 0.3 per cent in France and around an average of 2 per cent in Poland. Ultimately it is our customers who foot the bill as inflated interchange fees are passed on in the cost of products.

It is unequivocally good news that the European Commission has now proposed a regulation to create a fair, transparent and competitive market in card fees for Europe’s 500 million consumers. In a tough economic climate, a regulation for interchange fees will help companies such as B&Q Ireland, where in the past three years alone interchange fees have cost us €600,000. Savings here would support our strategy to roll back prices for our customers.

The tide is finally turning on interchange fees. The Polish government has just taken a bold decision to reduce bloated fees to 0.5 per cent.  If the Irish Government supports the EU proposal, retailers and household budgets are also set to benefit.

The EU is to be commended for looking to resolve interchange fees once and for all. Once a fair payments infrastructure is in place, the “digital single market” comprising online and m-commerce across the EU will have a better chance of flourishing.  – Yours, etc,


CEO of B&Q UK & Ireland,

Director of Kingfisher plc,

Sheldon Square,

London, England.


Sir, – In the light of recent articles and discussions about the disposal of items from public collections (Arts, December 5th), I wish to state on behalf of the Irish Museums Association (IMA) the commitment of Irish museums to the principle of holding collections in trust on behalf of the public. Museum collections belong to all of us, and under no circumstances should they treated as a mere asset to be sold to pay the bills. In the exceptional circumstance where material is de-accessioned from a public collection, this should only be done in compliance with the procedures as set out in the Code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

There has been much debate in recent years about trust in public institutions. Museum collections are a very tangible example of that trust and the responsibility of safeguarding their survival for the enlightenment and enjoyment of this and future generations is one that Irish museums take with the utmost seriousness. – Yours, etc,


Chair, Irish Museums


Earlsfort Terrace,

Sir, – Further to Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary tribute (December 5th) to Camille Jenatzy, the 1903 Irish Gordon Bennett Cup winner should also be remembered for his contribution to electric-powered cars. It was in an electric machine that the “Red Devil” became the first person to drive at a mile a minute (100km/h) in 1899.  

A similar machine – named after the Belgian’s car – reached 495km/h (307mph) in 2010. Had manufacturers followed Jenatzy’s example and not concentrated on the internal combustion engine, the earth would have been a cleaner planet. And there would have been no oil wars, nor kowtowing to oil-rich despots.

Frank McNally commented on the irony of the retired racer’s death in a hunting accident on December 7th 1913. Jenatzy’s shooting may not, however, have been due to a practical joke that miscarried. It’s been recently suggested that he had a mistress – the wife of Alfred Madoux, the magazine editor who shot him. The “Red Devil” should have stuck to his motor racing. – Yours, etc,


Mid Mountjoy Street,

Dublin 7.




Irish Independent:

* “It belittles all of us to live in a society where it’s tolerated that some people should have to sleep outdoors.”

Also in this section

Colm is some man

Letters: Negative spin on turbines

Letters: A good head and a good heart

Martina Devlin (Irish Independent, December 5) articulates the chilling, uncomfortable truths about how we are all embroiled in this unacceptable travesty.

While canny investors from outside these shores gobble up cheap prime property from NAMA, bank repossession sales and failing businesses, we fail to protect our own citizens from homeless penury and skid row.

Those who escape the downside ravages of the market are shielded only by participating with a searingly competitive ruthlessness to amass and retain their fortunes.

What type of empathy is afoot? A patronising sigh mixed with contempt for those who find themselves in a place where “loss of hope has to be a common denominator”? Exasperated resentment for those unfortunate enough to find themselves sitting on a freezing bridge scrabbling for our coppers? Where is our collective generosity of spirit?

We are, reputedly, a generous lot when it comes to charitable donations, but we seem to be either unwilling or unable to address the underlying flaws permeating our society, which let so many people down. The poverty gap continues to widen.

The core conundrum is a top-down/side-to-side issue which challenges nearly all of our dearly held personalised notions of monied independence, investment protection, business ethics and overall moral compass.

As Devlin clarifies, “we are all accountable to and for one other”, and whatever “state the public finances are in, the money must be found to deal with homelessness”.

This is certainly true – and together with a radical overhaul of our aspirational frameworks as well as the currently prevailing financial templates of riddle and ridicule.

Jim Cosgrove

Lismore, Co Waterford


* There was a tremendously juxtaposed contrast between the ESB workers threatened strike action and national blackouts in the heart of winter, and the late Nelson Mandela.

It is very simply recognised when we consider this quote from the latter: “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort.” Thankfully the ESB row has now been resolved.

But how many of those who had signalled an intention to strike despite having some of the strongest, most secure pension schemes in the public service at the moment (and that’s really saying something) – can truly say they were doing their duty by their people and country, by threatening power cuts?

Killian Foley-Walsh

Kilkenny City


* What made Nelson Mandela a giant is that after 27 years locked up breaking stones on Robben Island, he returned to the world with a smile and not a grimace.

Ed Toal

Dublin 4

* Nelson Mandela believed passionately in education as the only sure route to a better life, and we in Breadline Africa are committed to keeping the flame of his legacy burning.

Since 2010, we have been privileged to co-operate with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in providing school libraries in primary schools in deprived areas – rural and urban – all over South Africa, using refurbished ships containers.

To date, we have opened 33 libraries and the programme continues to develop. We are proud to recall that Irish donors – corporate and individual – have helped to commemorate Mandela’s memory in such a practical way.

To see the joy of the children and their teachers as they grasp their new opportunities is to see Mandela’s vision in action.

Noo Wallis

Irish Advisory Committee,

Breadline Africa

* Ricky Gervais put forward the theory that prison can work in some cases. He said once, to reinforce his thesis, that “Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and he is out now for quite some time without re-offending”. Hard to argue with that.

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

* How about some balance in your paper’s reporting of Nelson Mandela? The glowing tributes are just too much. I even saw one ludicrous suggestion that Mandela is comparable to Mahatma Gandhi. Nonsense.

I beg people to look at Gandhi’s life and then go and learn some of the workings of Mandela’s ANC. Particularly disturbing was their use of petrol-filled car tyres hung around the neck and shoulders of victims, who they then set alight.

It must be the most horrific, painful and slow death imaginable. Gandhi was a pacifist who would never have allowed such atrocities to happen. Only God will really judge him now.

Eamon Reilly

Mullingar, Co Westmeath


* I renewed my driving licence in mid-November and have still not received it. I assumed it was lost in the post, so I called into my local National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) centre to check on its whereabouts. The staff said there was a six to eight-week delay – the website claimed it would only take eight working days.

When I asked what I was supposed to do without a driving licence – especially if I had to go abroad on business or on holiday and needed to hire a car – I was told: “You won’t be able to. We do apologise, we’re very busy, we’ve had lots of complaints but there’s nothing more we can do.”

Why was a system that couldn’t handle the expected volume set up in the first place? An answer of ‘We didn’t expect this to happen’ would surely indicate shockingly poor research and a system that should never have been allowed to proceed. I would also like to know what the RSA intends to do to address this appalling state of affairs?

Apparently, 20 extra staff have been taken on, but shouldn’t this have been done earlier to avoid it becoming such a fiasco? And why isn’t there an ’emergency system’ for handling urgent requirements?

John Darlington

Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim


* Apparently, upon our formal exiting of the bailout programme, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will use the opportunity to make a fresh push for a deal on our bank debt (Irish Independent, December 6).

I fear he may be running up against a brick wall. The words of German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble last October must still be ringing in the Taoiseach’s ears when he said that retroactive direct recapitalisation for Ireland was “not probable”, and “I don’t see any necessity for this. We think Ireland is doing very well. Ireland did what Ireland had to do . . . now everything is fine.” Let us hope those words were for the benefit of his potential coalition partners, and not an intransigent position on our debt.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth


* I am in a bit of a quandary here: can a Christmas jumper be a Christmas jumper if it doesn’t have any reindeers on it?

R J Gill

Co Galway

Irish Independent





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